Hands On: ContactsMate 3.0.0

Updated app wants to sort out your address book

Usually, a contacts or address book app aims to make it easy and quick for you to add new people or change some details. Invariably, a new contacts app will have something more, because it has to: given that you already have Apple's Contacts app on your Mac, you need a compelling reason to buy a replacement. ContactsMate 3.0.0 wants to be your new daily address book, and it's aiming to get you by way of its tools for cleaning up problems.

These are really the two sides to this app: the regular use, and the initial one. You will always accrue problems with your contacts --such as duplicate ones -- because you didn't realize you'd already added someone, for instance. So it's always going to be handy to have tools that will sort that out, but really it's the first time you use ContactsMate that you're going to put those features to the test.

ContactsMate is definitely very strong on finding problems: we expected a couple of duplicate entries on our test address book database, but this app discovered somewhere between oodles and a slew of errors. That's startling, but supremely useful, except for one issue.

When ContactsMate finishes studying your address book and finding all these errors, it displays them all with an option to fix them one by one, or in one big go. Unfortunately, what you see is the information that a contacts entry has wrong in some way, and what that entry will show when you click to fix it. There's no way to see what the entry looked like originally, so there's no way to definitively compare Before and what will become After.

It's a small thing, but it's important enough that we couldn't pull the trigger on a live address book database: we had no way to see that an apparent duplication is real, or is one of the admittedly rare cases where we know two people with the same name.

The contact with no name

Then the duplicates section is just one of very many potential problem categories, and one of them is about contacts that have no name. That's a tough one to police, because you end up with many contacts listed by the title "No name," and you have to go into each one to try to see what the problem is. That sounds daft, as the problem is clearly that they don't have a name, but actually we're looking at one "No name" entry right now and it has a name -- in Contacts. This is ContactsMate on the left, Apple's Contacts on the right: the photo makes us think it's the same entry, but how can we be sure?

This may not bother you or it may, as it does with us, make you twitch and think about attention to detail, but there's a line on that screen that says: "This contact exists invalid character." The English in this app is poor, and that extends to the website, where it says "ContactsMate 3.0.0 former as ContactManager." You know what it means, but you have to think about it and we have actually, genuinely, scratched our heads trying to work out whether we want to click Fix or not.

We keep saying that there is no way to see Before and After, but of course there is: after a very little while we opened up our regular address book, BusyContacts, and looked up entries in that while working through ContactsMate. Unfortunately, that wasn't enough and we quite soon ended up having ContactsMate, BusyContacts and Apple's own Contacts app open at the same entries.

One of the great and terrible things about contacts apps on OS X is that they can, and do, all use Apple's core database: whatever else they do, whatever else they add, they all use that one central resource. It's great, because it means you can immediately swap to ContactsMate or any other such app without any exporting or importing of data. The terrible thing is that if you make a change in any contacts app, that change is immediately in them all. So you have to be careful.

Day-to-day use

ContactsMate 3.0.0 also wants to be your app of choice for all your regular, daily address book use, and it can certainly be that. To be that, it needs to have tools for searching existing contacts, and adding new ones. That's all there, and that's all good. It would be good if your contacts app could also look great, but that's more of a subjective thing.

This ContactsMate app is certainly different to Apple's Contacts. It's got a very specific aesthetic, and while it doesn't happen to appeal to us, it is a consistent and well-worked out look. It's just a very hard job designing a contacts app to look well: it has to display a lot of information -- and often it has to display very little. It's also got to have clear tools, and here ContactsMate falls down: the only way to add a new contact is via the + icon in the bottom left of the second column. There's no menu item to do it, no keystroke.

The way that ContactsMate does this is fine; it's not compelling. The tools that it presents for analyzing your database could be, though, if you're willing to spend some time using them to their fullest, and working through your whole contacts database.

You have to be careful with contacts, and you have to have great tools: ContactsMate is startlingly excellent at finding problems; it's necessarily poorer at fixing them because of that one small issue about not showing the original.

ContactsMate 3.0.0 requires OS X 10.7 or higher, and at time of writing is on sale for $16 from the official site. There's a trial version at that same site, and we recommend you take a look.

Who is ContactsMate 3.0.0 for:
If you work your contacts list quite a bit, forever adding and updating, then you will benefit from its ability to clean up the problems that you will inescapably have built up over the years.

Who is ContactsMate 3.0.0 not for:
If you work your contacts list a lot more, if it's central to your business for instance, then this might well be worth getting for just the clean-up features, but it won't replace your Contact Relationship Manager software.

--William Gallagher (@WGallagher)

Readers: do you have an app that you'd like to see us review? Developers: do you want us to take a look at your app? Send your suggestions to our Tips email.

Post a comment
Please note that it takes a couple of minutes for new comments to be visible in this area.